Dir: Lynne Stopkewich. Canada. 2000. 92 mins.
Prod co: Tartan Films/Okulitch Pedersen. Int'l sales: Beyond Films (61-2) 9281 1266. Exec prods: Hamish McAlpine, Erik Stensrud. Prod: Michael Okulitch. Scr: Stopkewich, based on the novel by Laura Kasischke. DoP: Gregory Middleton. Prod des: Don MacAulay. Ed: Allan Lee. Mus: Don MacDonald. Main cast: Molly Parker, Callum Keith Rennie, Mary Kate Welsh, Joel Bissonnette.
Lynne Stopkewich's follow-up to her well-regarded debut, Kissed, is an unrelentingly bleak film in which a young woman is drawn into a dangerous sexual relationship and barely escapes with her life. Arthouse audiences are sure to be drawn to the new film thanks to Kissed but those same viewers will likely hurt it through negative word of mouth. While the two films share controversial subject matter, Suspicious River's rough-trade is no match for Kissed's necrophilia in terms of generating morbid curiosity.
Parker, the star of Kissed, plays Leila, a motel receptionist who earns extra money sexually servicing male guests. The arrival of Gary (Rennie), an attractive but ominous character, establishes the downhill course: he likes it rough and though Leila is initially repelled she returns for more. When he suggests they rob the motel and run off together, she abandons what remains of her life and brings along her sex-trade savings. Taken to a secluded house, she discovers that Gary has robbed her. But the horror has only begun: Gary leaves her to be gang-raped by his buddies. In the aftermath, she tries to kill herself only to be set free by one of the men, an abstainer who takes pity on her. She stumbles to freedom watched from the bushes by Gary.
Certainly Stopkewich is not resting on her laurels. After the sensation of Kissed and its necrophile heroine, she continues her transgressive explorations. A parallel storyline suggests Leila is herself the daughter of a part-time prostitute and thus her voyage of sexual self-discovery is precipitated by her lack of her self-worth. But the dramatisation is so raw that any social commentary is overpowered; in an effort to avoid sensationalising the story, Stopkewich went too far, leaving nothing to the imagination. Whereas Kissed had sparks of wit the new film has nothing for an audience to hold on to.